‘You Have to Create the Market’: Dealer Mariane Ibrahim on Moving to Chicago and Promoting Artists From Africa, Its Diaspora, and Beyond

Original blog source: Tim Schneider, September 17, 2019 | news.artnet.com

Mariane Ibrahim's new 5,000 square-foot space results from a much longer journey than her move from Seattle to Illinois.

Mariane Ibrahim does not fear change. Roughly seven years after founding her namesake gallery in Seattle, Ibrahim and her program officially begin their next act in Chicago this Friday, September 20, during the latest edition of Expo Chicago. Her new 5,000 square-foot space in the city’s West Town neighborhood effectively doubles the square footage of her gallery in the Pacific Northwest, while her presence further strengthens the Windy City’s increasingly influential standing in the international art market.

But like several gallerists who have gone on to great success, Ibrahim didn’t grow up dreaming of a career as an art dealer. She was born in Nouméa, the capital city of the French territory of New Caledonia, about 1,000 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia. Her family moved to Somalia, where both her parents grew up, when she was five years old, then relocated to France three years later. Her early transitions through so many different cultures gave Ibrahim a keen understanding of how layered identity can be.

Mariane Ibrahim joins a growing contemporary art scene in Chicago with her new gallery in the city's West Town neighborhood. Photography by Philip Newton. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

“I usually avoid the question, ‘where are you from?’, because what does that mean anymore, to be ‘from’ a place?” she mused to artnet News in the lead-up to her Chicago unveiling.

Today, Ibrahim’s program compels her to act as something of an ambassador for nuance and complexity in an art world still prone to generalization. While several of the emerging artists she represents hail from African countries or are members of the African diaspora, Ibrahim emphasizes that they—and by extension, her gallery—have much more to offer than simplistic regional or heritage-based labels could ever contain.

“I don’t see artists as ‘African artists.’ That’s why I’m comfortable speaking on their behalf,” she says. “It’s a big continent. It has influenced the entire world in art, music, history, performance, and dance.” To condense such a rich variety of nations, cultures, and traditions into a handful of identity-based descriptors would be “very dangerous and opportunistic.”

Challenging as these conversations are, Ibrahim says she is excited to have the opportunity to push them forward—especially during a period when so many art institutions and collectors are finally beginning to admit how narrow their purview has been.

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